Teaching EIL – The Changing Role of Language Teachers

Teaching EIL – The Changing Role of Language Teachers


Due to the emergence of English as a global language, there is a need for teachers to critically examine their pedagogical practices and adjust their roles so that they are more in keeping with the principles that underlie the teaching of English as a global or international language. In this article, I discuss traditional teacher roles that continue to be relevant today, examine established teacher roles that require a critical examination as they may no longer be relevant, and reflect on newly emerging teacher roles that are based on the principles of teaching English as an international language. I conclude by suggesting that teachers should take a critical stance towards their roles and adopt new roles that are more attuned to the changing status English as a global language.

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One of the key factors in the successful implementation of an English as an International (EIL) approach to teaching English is the teacher. To implement an EIL approach, the teachers need to learn and do a lot of things –  they need to understand what it means to teach English in the EIL context; they need to know what kinds of roles they should play in promoting EIL pedagogy and what roles they should be critical about if they want to put into practice an approach to teaching English that is compatible with EIL principles; they also need to be willing to learn new knowledge and skills before they can comfortably assume their new roles in teaching EIL.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, they need to develop a favourable attitude towards the teaching of EIL. While the professional literature indicates that many applied linguists seem to give whole-hearted support to the EIL model of teaching (Mckay, 2002; Sharifian, 2009), the reality at the ground level is that many teachers are less eager to embrace EIL models of teaching. Citing Jenkins’ (2007) work, Llurda (2009: 126), for example, maintains that “… language teachers in general, and NNESTs [Non-native English Speaking Teachers] in particular, hold attitudes towards EIL that are far from being enthusiastic.”

In this paper, I first look at the traditional roles of language teachers. Two sets of roles are discussed. The first set refers to those that all good language teachers are expected to play, as these roles are based on general educational principles or second language teaching principles. Included in this first set are such roles as: motivator, needs analyst, materials developer, organizer of learning activities, monitor of student learning and provider of language input.

The second set of roles refers to those that require a critical examination as they may run counter to some of  the EIL principles discussed in the second part of the paper. Examples of teacher roles under this category include those that view the teacher as an ambassador of the inner-circle culture, model of the native-speaker variety of English, user of western-based teaching methodology (e.g., communicative language teaching), and promoter of English-only classrooms.

The second part of this paper examines a set of EIL principles and the kinds of teacher roles that reflect these principles. EIL-oriented teacher roles such as promoter of intercultural competence and multiculturalism, promoter of other varieties of English, critical user of course books and teaching methodology are discussed in this section. Lastly I conclude by suggesting that the teachers take a critical stance towards their roles and adopt new roles that are more attuned to the changing status English as a global language.


The users and uses of English have changed a great deal in the past thirty years or so. A lot more people now use English and many of these people are non-native users of English. It’s been estimated that some two billion people speak the language (Graddol, 2006; Ur, 2009), many of whom are non-native speakers of English. In addition, people now use English for far more diverse purposes than ever before (see for example, McKay, 2002).

Within the ELT world, the purposes for which English is learned have also undergone a major change. Many learn English in order to get a job, to be able to access information from the internet, to be able to communicate with their English-speaking friends or business clients, or for some other pragmatic reason. For most of these people, their goal is not to acquire native-like competence in English, but to know enough English to meet their communicative needs.

Given these changes, what kinds of roles do teachers need to assume? Do they need to completely abandon the so-called traditional roles that they have been carrying out for many years in order to be considered in sync with the changes that are happening in the world today? Not necessarily. For any change to be meaningful and sustainable, the first step would be for teachers to carefully examine their existing roles and reflect on these roles in relation to the demands of teaching English in today’s world.

Traditional teacher roles that reflect sound educational principles

Regardless of the teaching methods they use and the contexts of teaching in which they work, all good teachers are expected to perform certain roles that are considered essential in their job. One of the most important roles is to instruct. As instructors, they are expected to be able to teach in a manner that the students can understand easily and in a manner that engages the students to participate optimally in the lesson (Wlodlowski, 1999). This often requires the use of clear and simple language with appropriate signposting at critical points in the lesson.

Another key role of the teachers that reflects sound educational principles is that of a motivator. In mainstream education, it has now been firmly established that motivation plays a key role in learning. Study after study has shown that the relationship between motivation and academic achievement is consistently positive (e.g., Brophy, 1998).

It is not difficult to find support for the positive impact of motivation on learning. Motivated learners are enthusiastic, goal-oriented, committed, persistent and confident learners. They are willing to work hard to achieve their goal and do not easily give up until they achieve that goal. In the classroom, these learners are engaged in a range of activities that we know contribute directly and significantly to learning. They are more attentive during lessons, they take notes to help them retain information, they ask questions when the teachers’ explanation is not clear and they reflect on their understanding of the lesson (Wlodkowski, 1999).

Although motivation is not as extensively discussed and researched in the second language field, the key research findings on the role of motivation in second language learning have largely echoed those in general education. A renowned second language motivation researcher, Zoltán Dörnyei, for example, in his seminal book Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom contends that “… during the lengthy and often tedious process of mastering a foreign/second language (L2), the learner’s enthusiasm, commitment and persistence are key determinants of success or failure.” (Dörnyei, 2001: 5).

There are many other “traditional” roles that teachers need to assume because these roles reflect sound educational principles and help them fulfil their responsibilities. For instance, at the curricular level, they are expected to carry out tasks that relate to curricular issues, although many may not be directly involved in curriculum development. Thus the roles of the teachers often include the following (Brown, 1995; Richards & Lockhart, 1994)

Needs analyst

The teacher surveys the students’ learning needs and styles and uses the information gathered from the survey as a basis for planning and developing future courses. Good teachers carry out needs analyses on an on-going basis and make use of the information to customise their lessons so that the needs and aspirations of the individual students can be optimally addressed.

Materials developer.

The teacher writes his or her own teaching materials, or where this is not possible, selects published materials and adapts them according to curricular requirements, learner needs, his/her own teaching styles, and socio-cultural factors.

Monitor and assessor of students’ learning

The teacher continually assesses the students’ learning in order to monitor their progress, or lack of progress, and uses this information as a basis for developing remedial lessons, revising course materials or introducing new teaching methodologies, or other course improvement purposes.

At the procedural level in the classroom, teachers may assume a number of roles that relate to more immediate pedagogic concerns. Described below are such roles that second language experts believe to be important for both native and non-native speakers teachers of English (e.g., Medgyes, 1994). Harmer (2007: 109-110) lists the following teacher roles, but cautions that while these roles may facilitate learning in the language classroom, teachers must be flexible in carrying them out and be willing to take alternate roles depending on the group of students they are teaching.

For example, some students might prefer a more dominant teacher role (a controller) where the teacher does almost everything for the students, but others may be more comfortable with the teacher playing a more facilitative role (a resource), where the students take a more active role in organizing learning in the classroom.


This word may have a negative connotation as the teacher is seen as an autocratic figure whose job is to transmit knowledge and tightly regulate student behaviour. This role is often associated with a teacher-fronted mode of learning, which many experts (e.g., Lee, Ng & Jacobs, 1998), believe is not conducive to learning.

However one can argue that there are many occasions during a lesson where the teacher must act as a controller – when introducing a new topic for which the students have little prior knowledge, when explaining a difficult grammatical concept or vocabulary meaning, when organising structured group activities, when arranging for question-answer work or when encouraging the students to stay engaged and focused during task work (Harmer, 2007). Thus, the watch word here is flexibility in carrying out this role in that the teacher must not stick to this role all the time.


In a foreign or second language class, the teacher often plays a prompting role when the students are not sure about how to perform a task or how to respond to teacher questions. During oral task work, for example, the students may be struggling for words to express themselves, or may lose their train of thought. The teacher can offer hints or suggest words or phrases. Harmer (2007: 109) points out that when prompting the students, “we need to do it sensitively and encouragingly but, above all, with discretion.” This is because the key purpose of prompting is for us to provide just “the right amount of encouragement” so that we don’t run the risk of “taking the initiative away from the student” (Harmer, 2007: 109).


There are times when the teacher might take part in an activity as a participant, and not as a teacher. Taking this role will allow the teacher to understand the students better not only in terms of how they learn and process information, but also in terms of the kind of difficulties they encounter in their learning.

For example, when asking the students to write an essay on a certain topic, the teacher can actually write an essay him/herself so as to understand the kind of planning, drafting, rewriting, and editing that is required of the students to produce a good piece of writing. This teacher role can help us become more tolerant and sympathetic towards our students’ learning process, which in turn helps us better anticipate our students’ learning difficulties.


At the other end of the continuum to the teacher-as-controller is the teacher’s role as a resource. This teacher role is particularly relevant when the students are working independently following a period of instruction but still need help from the teacher.

For instance, when preparing for a class presentation, the students might need help with certain words, phrases or with certain linking words or discourse markers that will help them organise the flow of their presentation; they might ask for tips on how to begin their presentation in order to get the attention of the audience, etc. When implementing an extensive reading programme, for example, the teacher can act as a resource by suggesting the kinds of books that the students find interesting but at the same time written in an accessible and comprehensible language.

Two things need to be said about the roles of teachers that I have described above as ‘traditional’. Firstly, these roles are traditional in the sense that they are time-honoured roles that have found their respectable place in the classroom. They are based on firm educational principles and are valued by researchers and practitioners alike.

Secondly, although these are desirable roles, teachers need to continually reflect on these roles and adopt those that are appropriate for the kinds of learners they are working with, and also be willing to take on different roles at any one time depending on such factors as the age of the learners, their levels of proficiency, the goal of instruction and the socio-cultural background of the learners.

As Hedge (2000: 29) points out, “the precise interpretation of these functions would also be to some extent socially and culturally dependent.” Thus in a socio-cultural setting where the teacher is seen as an authority figure, he or she might adopt the more authority-oriented roles (i.e., controller or instructor) and perhaps introduce the more learner-oriented roles of teaching (i.e., participant or facilitator) gradually.

Traditional teacher roles that reflect the old paradigm of language teaching

Many of the traditional teacher roles discussed in this section can be traced to a set of assumptions that underlie a still dominant ELT pedagogy known as the communicative language teaching (CLT). McKay (2003: 3) describes some of these key assumptions:

  • ELT research and pedagogy should be informed by native speaker models
  • The cultural content for ELT should be derived from the cultures of native English speakers.
  • The culture of learning that informs communicative language teaching (CLT) provides the most productive method for ELT.

It is clear that these assumptions have an unmistakable reference to an ideology known as ‘native-speakerism’ (Holliday, 2006). Essentially, a native-speakerist perspective is “characterised by the belief that ‘native-speaker’ teachers represent a ‘Western culture’ from which springs the ideals both of the English language and English language teaching methodology” (p. 385).

Although this ideology is currently being challenged and also considered untenable in light of the status of English as a lingua franca, the native speaker models are still widespread in the ELT world. Native speakers are considered to be the ideal English teachers, ones that have far greater facility in using fluent and idiomatic language, that have deep understanding of the target language culture, that also possess a pedagogical expertise which is far superior to those of their non-native counterparts and that are capable of teaching the students to acquire native-like competence in the language (Llurda, 2009; McKay 2003; Phillipson, 1992). It is little wonder that the native speaking English teachers often receive special treatments in the job market, i.e., they are given preference in hiring and receive higher remunerations and more perks (Braine, 2010).

Given the prevalence of the native speaker models, and the fact that CLT still enjoys widespread popularity in the inner, outer and expanding circle countries, many teachers still believe that their main responsibilities are to help their learners achieve native-like fluency and acquire in-depth knowledge of the socio-cultural conventions and norms of the native English speaking communities. Their preoccupation with the native speaker models of teaching often results in a mismatch between their pedagogical practices and their learners’ learning goals and the EIL context in which English is used today (Mckay, 2003).

This is probably not surprising because as Brown (2012) pointed out, the native speaker models have traditionally been used as a basis for curriculum development. So for a long time, “curriculum developers have assumed (a) that students need to learn the English of native speakers (NSs), (b) that educated NSs of English should serve as the model and standard …” (p. 148).

Thus, there is still a tendency to put a great deal of prestige on native-like pronunciation and insisting that instructional activities should be designed to help learners acquire native-like accents, although all the students aspire to do is to be able to converse in simple English with their English speaking business partners, many of whom are non-native speakers of English. There is also a tendency to rigidly adhere to the native standard varieties of English (Llurda, 2009; Mckay, 2003).

This is despite the fact that in many expanding circle countries, the teachers themselves may not speak these standard varieties (perhaps due to their lack of exposure to these varieties and also lack of communicative experience with people who speak these varieties), and as a result, may not be able to consistently model these varieties to the students. Making the native standard varieties the target of learning is thus linguistically and pedagogically problematic.

Echoing earlier writers (e.g., Philipson, 1992) who challenged the CLT approach which promotes a pedagogic model based on native speakerism, Alptekin (2002) dismisses the CLT model of teaching as “utopian, unrealistic, and constraining in relation to English as an International Language (EIL)” (p. 57). He argues that the model of communicative competence as currently embodied in the CLT approach does not reflect how English is used in cross cultural settings in the world today – a view shared by many EIL researchers (e.g., Llurda, 2009; McKay, 2002, Sharifian, 2009).

A more appropriate model of communicative competence will need to take into account the use and users of English today. An intercultural model of language learning has been proposed and is beginning to gain acceptance among researchers, practitioners and educational bodies such as the Council of Europe (Corbett, 2010). For example, the Common European Framework of Reference of Languages: Learning, Teaching and Assessment, states the goal of language education thus:

In an intercultural approach, it is a central objective of language learning to promote the favourable development of the learner’s whole personality and sense of identity in response to the enriching experience of otherness in language and culture. (Council of Europe, 2001: 1, cited in Corbett, 2010:1)

Similarly, Alptekin (2002: 57) contends that an intercultural model of communicative competence within ELT:

… would encompass local and international contexts as settings of language use, involve native-nonnative discourse participants, and take as pedagogic models successful bilinguals with intercultural insights and knowledge. As such, it would aim at the realization of intercultural communicative competence in ELT.

 An acceptance of the native speaker models in ELT encourages the teacher to adopt roles that conform to the assumptions underlying these models. Some of the most well-known teacher roles that reflect these assumptions are described below.

Native language model

Given the preference for native varieties, non-native English teachers often find themselves under the pressure to take on the role of native language model (Llurda, 2009). He or she has to use a native standard variety such as British or American English. Only those who have acquired native-like competence are deemed suitable to take on this role. Of course, this can be problematic in places where the majority of the English teachers are non-native English speakers whose proficiency in English is often not at the higher end of the proficiency scale.

I remember when I first started my career as an EFL teacher some two decades ago. Although I am not a native speaker of English and my level of proficiency was not that high then, I strived to project myself as a model of a British speaker and insisted that my students adopt RP (Received Pronunciation) as the desired pronunciation target.

My experience, however, is not unique. WL, an experienced EFL teacher from China (see vignette on last page), had a similar experience. Her early teaching approach was characterised by the belief that the desired goal of instruction was to achieve native-like proficiency. Like me, she is now well aware of the need to continuously and critically reflect on her roles in the classroom and is willing to change in line with the changing status of English as an international language.

Representative of native English speaking cultures

The central task of the teacher is not only to help the students attain native-like competence, but also to teach the cultural norms and conventions of native English speaking communities. Language and culture cannot be separated; teaching English entails teaching native speaking English cultures. The teacher sees him/herself as a ‘representative and interpreter’ (Ellis, 1996: 213) or ‘ambassador’ (Llurda, 2004: 319) of the English cultures in the classroom.

This role finds its classroom application in the choice of teaching and learning materials, i.e., only those materials that contain cultural norms from inner circle countries are selected for instruction. In an ESP course for a group of learners in Vietnam who want to seek employment in the service sector, for example, the teacher might select a textbook that illustrates service exchanges commonly found in UK or US settings, in the belief that exposing the learners to such exchanges is pedagogically beneficial.

This may in fact have the opposite effect, because the mode of interaction exemplified in the course book may be completely different from that in the Vietnamese context, where the discourse participants may be mostly English speaking bilinguals from non-native speaking countries.

Roles reflecting the CLT approach

Teachers often describe their roles in relation to the teaching approach they employ. Since CLT is still the dominant approach in the world and most teachers are familiar with it and are employing this approach to some extent, I will focus on teacher roles that reflect CLT assumptions. In implementing CLT, the teacher needs to rely less on teacher-fronted or teacher-directed teaching and employ more learner-centred teaching. Instead of a central, authoritative figure in the classroom, he or she is a learning facilitator; instead of a teacher or instructor, he or she is a friend or counsellor (Ellis, 1996). Karavas-Dukas (1995, cited in Hedge 2000: 28-29) lists a number of teacher roles that reflect a learner-centred methodology:

Table 1: Teacher roles in a learner-centred methodology

General Role Specific Role
Source of advice Counsellor, Advisor, Personal Tutor
Facilitator of learning Helper and Guide
Sharing roles Participant, Student, Cooperator
Caring roles Friend, Caretaker, Supporter









Learner-centredness is premised on the idea that learning is primarily the learner’s responsibility. By taking the roles above, the teacher hopes to create learners who can take charge of their own learning and eventually become autonomous or independent learners.

CLT-oriented methodology also places a premium on communication. Learners are encouraged early on to make use of the target language using whatever limited resources they have at their disposal. According to Breen and Candlin (1980: 99, cited in Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 167):

The teacher has two main roles: the first role is to facilitate the communication process between all participants in the classroom, between these participants and the various activities and texts. The second role is to act as an independent participant within the learning-teaching group. The latter role is closely related to the objectives of the first role and arises from it. These roles imply a set of secondary roles for the teacher; first, as an organizer of resources and as a resource himself, second as a guide within the classroom procedures and activities. 

One way in which learners can be given ample opportunity to communicate in the language is through pair work or group work activities. Thus instructional approaches such as cooperative learning are thriving in CLT classrooms, where the teacher’s main role is to organise structured group tasks that allow active and interactive language use through information gap and information sharing activities.

Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with CLT methodology and the teacher roles that it inspires. In fact, CLT might work well in places where instructional practices that encourage interaction, independent learning and group-based learning are valued by the community. It is the indiscriminate and wholesale application of the methodology without regard to the socio-cultural contexts and purposes for which English is being learned that should be discouraged. In a country such as Japan where the teacher is expected to play a more direct role in the classroom, conducting communication activities using group work may be problematic, as recounted by a Japanese EFL teacher below (Richards & Lockhart, 1994: 108):

If I do group work or open-ended communicative activities, the students and other colleagues will feel that I’m not really teaching them. They will feel that I didn’t have anything really planned for the lesson and that I’m just filling in time.

What teachers need to do is not to reject or dismiss CLT methodology and its associated teacher roles as being downright irrelevant to EIL teaching; what they need to do is to develop a more critical stance towards the work that they do and be more critically aware of the advantages and limitations of their current approaches to teaching so that they can adopt a new set of roles that are more aligned with the role of English as an international language.


There are many roles that teachers can assume to help them achieve their teaching goals. The actual roles they take and the way they interpret these roles depend on many factors, e.g., the kinds of schools in which they work, their personality and teaching style, their cultural backgrounds and the teaching methods they use (Richards & Lockhart, 1994).

There is however one additional factor that needs to be considered, namely the changing landscape of English in the world today. As English is now de facto the language of international communication, the roles of the teacher need to be expanded to include those roles that are well attuned to the assumptions and principles for teaching English as an international language.

From the previous discussion, there are a number of principles that can be used as a basis for discussing EIL-oriented teacher roles (see Mckay, 2012, for a more extensive discussion of EIL principles):

  • The promotion of intercultural, rather than native-speaker, competence
  • The promotion of an awareness of other varieties of English
  • The promotion of multilingualism in the classroom
  • The promotion of instructional materials that include both local and international cultures
  • The promotion of socially and culturally sensitive teaching methodology

The principles above require that the teachers take on a new set of roles. There are of course teachers who already assume these new roles, but for others, these roles may be completely new and will take a bit of time to be integrated into their existing role set. I discuss below possible roles that support the application of the EIL principles in the classroom.

Intercultural competence

As the contexts of use of EIL are culturally varied, it is appropriate for the teacher to take an active role in promoting intercultural learning. Thus, in an EIL classroom, the teacher does not only take the role of a language teacher, whose job is to help the students develop linguistic competence, but also of an intercultural teacher, whose job is to help the students acquire intercultural communicative competence by fostering the ability to use English to communicate with other speakers of English from linguistically and culturally varied backgrounds.

Corbett (2010), among others, has suggested that teaching intercultural competence is not a trivial matter and requires a set of knowledge, skills and attitudes. An intercultural teacher, according to Corbett (2010: 2), should work towards helping learners achieve Byram’s (1997) five savoirs: (1) Knowing the self and the other; (2) Knowing how to relate and interpret meaning; (3) Developing critical awareness; (4) Knowing how to discover cultural information; and (5) Knowing how to relativise oneself and value the attitudes and beliefs of others.

Thus, when teaching these skills, the teacher may engage the students in activities that raise awareness of their own culture and other people’s cultures; promote greater understanding and respect of their own culture and others’ cultures; develop more positive and accepting attitudes towards cultural differences, and; raise awareness of the potential misunderstandings that can occur in cross-cultural interactions and of the need to develop skills to resolve potential communication problems.

Corbett’s (2010) book, Intercultural Language Activities, provides a wealth of teaching ideas that EIL teachers can use to promote intercultural learning. These activities are designed to aid learners develop skills in observing, describing, comparing and evaluating their own community and other communities’ cultural practices. These cultural practices are often reflected in the way people interact with each other and in how they choose words, expressions and other linguistic and non-linguistic resources to signal their communicative intents, thus providing the learners with the necessary cultural and linguistic information they need to develop intercultural communicative competence.

Awareness of other varieties of English

Traditionally, one of the key roles of the teacher is to promote inner circle varieties of English. Indeed, in many places in the world, native speaker varieties are still widely favoured, as they are considered the most prestigious, and also regarded as the most legitimate models for language learning. However, the roles of an EIL teacher should not be limited to providing language materials that reflect the inner circle varieties. He or she should also assume the role of a provider of other varieties of World Englishes, in particular those that the learners are more likely to come into contact with.

For example, when teaching a group of business people from Thailand who have business dealings with business people from Singapore, it makes sense to include teaching materials that depict features of Singapore English commonly used by Singaporeans in business settings. In addition to exposing learners to different varieties of English, the teacher will need to develop a repertoire of methodologies that can be used to help the learners develop a more positive view of the other varieties of English spoken in the outer and expanding circle countries, which, while different from the inner circle varieties, are equally legitimate.

Multilingualism in the classroom

Many traditional ELT classrooms still promote monolingualism, which is based on the belief that the best way to teach English is to make English the only language used in the classroom and to ban students’ first language in the belief that the use of the learners’ mother tongue will interfere with the learning of the target language.

This belief has come under severe criticism by a number of language scholars (e.g., Philipson, 1999) who assert that the monolingual tenet is not based on sound reasoning or on facts. There is no strong empirical evidence to support the claim that English is best taught monolingually. The fact that a lot of people in the world attain high proficiency levels in two languages and become effective bilinguals despite the methods of teaching they learned under provides support for Philipson’s (1999) position that the monolingual tenet is but a fallacy, a misleading notion that can do more harm than good.

In the context of EIL, it is more appropriate, in most instances, for the teacher to promote bilingualism or multilingualism. This is because it is neither realistic, nor desirable, to produce monolingual users of the new language. In many ELT contexts, it is in fact desirable to equip learners of English with the ability to use both English and the mother tongue with ease.

A case in point is when students later work as interpreters or translators where they should develop a high degree of proficiency in both languages so that they can process information from one language to another with ease and fluency. Thus there are situations where the teachers can fruitfully take on the role of a model of multilingual users and also promote multilingualism by making use of a pedagogy that supports multilingualism.

Instructional materials

In EIL settings, one would expect to find instructional materials that represent the world cultures, not just those from the inner circle countries. However, despite the growing awareness of the role of English as an international language, teaching materials often reflect the cultures of native English-speaking countries.

Yuen (2011) examined two series of widely used junior secondary English language textbooks in Hong Kong and found that these course books contained a great deal of cultural material, but that the cultures of English speaking countries figured much more prominently compared to those of the Asian and African countries. He concluded that the over-representation of the English speaking cultures was problematic as it went counter to the goal of English language teaching in Hong Kong, which, according to the Hong Kong Ministry of Education is “to extend students’ knowledge and experience of the ‘cultures’ of other people” (Yuen, 2011: 7).

In the context of EIL, there is then an urgent need to encourage teachers to be more mindful when selecting and using instructional materials so that there is little or no mismatch between what is mandated in the curriculum and the kinds of instructional materials that are used in the classroom. Yuen (2011) and others (e.g., Matsuda, in press) have suggested that there is a need to increase the teachers’ awareness of the cultural contents of their instructional materials and judge for themselves whether these cultural contents reflect the cultures of speakers of English as an international language. They should not simply become passive consumers of commercial course books, but should “become more aware of their role as critical textbook users or even textbook writers … ” (Yuen, 2011: 8).

Socially and culturally appropriate teaching methodology

As should be clear from the earlier discussion, ELT methodology is culturally laden. CLT methodology, for example, is based on certain Western-oriented assumptions and beliefs that may not be universally applicable or acceptable. McKay (2003) and others (e.g., Ellis, 1996), for example, maintain that the adoption of CLT in the classroom often means that the teacher has to introduce a new ‘culture of learning’, which may clash with the learners’ culture of learning.

In CLT, the overemphasis on meaning rather than form, process rather than product, fluency rather than accuracy can be a source of unhappiness or a feeling of frustration among learners who grow up in a culture that values the mastery of grammatical skills and other linguistic forms (Ellis, 1996). When the new way of learning is too dissimilar to the old way of learning, the learners may not learn very much, or worse, develop unfavourable attitudes towards learning English. Ellis (1996) pointed out that CLT-based activities that have “a communicative or process orientation were not highly valued by students from traditional backgrounds” which could result in “passive resistance or non-learning on the part of the student” (p. 214).

Given the diverse socio-cultural settings in which English is taught today, teachers will need to use what has been termed ‘a socially and culturally appropriate teaching methodology’ (Kramsch & Sullivan, 1996; Mckay 2003;). Such teaching methodology will have to be ‘culturally attuned and accepted’ (Ellis, 1996: 213) by the local community in which English is taught. For this to happen, teachers will need to take on the role of critical users of teaching methodology.

As ELT methodology originated from the West and is based on a Western-based culture of learning, one of the things teachers needs to do would be to unearth the cultural values associated with the teaching methods and critically evaluate their suitability vis-a-vis the local cultures.

For example, if certain tasks or activities are likely to cause resistance on the part of the learners, the teacher can consider (i) replacing the tasks with ones that are more in sync with the local culture of learning; (ii) reframing the tasks so that they are more aligned with the local culture of learning and; (iii) if the teacher believes that the tasks are pedagogically sound and will produce more effective learning, they may be introduced gradually so that the students have enough time to familiarise themselves with the new way of learning.


The ELT landscape is changing and it is changing rapidly. In the 1970s, the goal of learning English was based on a theory of learning that favoured native speakerism. Regardless of the purpose of learning, the goal of learning was often pre-determined to be a native speaker variety of English and a native speaker competence. Pedagogical practices were similarly characterised by assumptions and beliefs that can be traced back to a culture of learning that is valued by the native speaker cultures of learning. Accordingly, the teacher took on roles that, to a large extent, conformed to these assumptions.

As English has now obtained a status as a global language, there is a need for teachers to critically examine their pedagogical practices and adjust their roles so that they are more in keeping with the principles that underlie the teaching of English as a global or international language. This however does not mean that the teachers should abandon their ‘traditional’ roles and take on completely new roles.

As I have argued in the paper, some teacher roles are based on widely accepted principles of learning which the teacher should continue to cherish. There are however other teacher roles that need to be critically examined as they are based on assumptions that may not be in sync with the realities and principles of EIL.


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I have been teaching English in Chinese colleges for over nine years. I still remember the days when I started teaching English: During my first meeting with my students, I always asked them to listen to BBC or VOA every day and imitate the speakers, believing that speaking like the native speakers of English was an essential step for them to be successful language learners. In class, I spared no effort in correcting students’ “non-standard” pronunciation. However, despite the endeavour made by my students to acquire the “native” type of pronunciation, most of them, especially those from the rural areas of China whose only access to aural English was their teacher’s accented pronunciation, failed to attain this goal and became very frustrated with the experience.

It is the chance to attend a teacher-education program in Singapore that reveals to me that intelligibility should be the goal of pronunciation training. I now adopt a different approach to teaching English. Yes, I still correct my students’ pronunciation mistakes, but my focus is on those which are likely to cause misunderstanding in comprehension. Whether or not my students’ pronunciation sounds native-like is no longer a concern for me.

Such change is also taking place in my choice of the instructional materials. I am now adding audio materials spoken by people with various accents, such as the Singaporean one or the Indian one in class listening activities (which I never considered a suitable thing to do before). Interestingly, my students seem very interested in the speakers’ pronunciation differences and start to accept the view that English is spoken in a wide variety of ways. Awareness of this fact renders my students more tolerant of their own pronunciation style — which is reflected in their willingness and confidence to participate in class discussion. Another benefit is that an unfamiliar accent is no longer regarded as “strange” or “bad” by my students; they simply view it as being “different”.

Another change I would like to highlight is that in the past I was preoccupied with acquainting students solely with the British and American cultures, under the belief that they would only communicate in English with people from these cultures. Motivated by the realisation that English is increasingly assuming the role of an international language and my students will probably communicate with people from all over the world, the majority of whom are non-native speakers of English, I am now consciously including materials that depict the cultural characteristics of people from countries such as Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia. Students’ interest in such information is more intense than I had expected: Thanks to the omnipresence of the Internet, they have already made some foreign friends who are not native speakers of English.

To sum up, I think my role as an English teacher has undergone great changes. In the past, I was obsessed with helping students acquire native-like English, under the assumption that their future interactants would all speak in the same “standard” style. My experience abroad has taught me the importance of knowing about the existence other varieties of English. So far, I have already embarked on the journey to acquaint my students with other English varieties, although the amount of time devoted to such an endeavour is limited due to all kinds of practical concerns. I am happy to note that my students have developed a more positive attitude towards other varieties of English.

WL – EFL Teacher, PRC

The original article was published in Renandya, W.A. (2012). Teacher Roles in EIL. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL,1(2), 65-80.

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